Tag Archives: dessert

Caramel Cake

5 Feb

Caramel Cake

Caramel cake is a Southern dessert that is traditionally made with white cake and caramel frosting.  Lots of variations exist (i.e., caramel cake and caramel icing, yellow cake with buttercream icing drizzled with caramel), but in my opinion, the original is the best.  When I am home, my mom always picks up Cindy Lou’s caramel cakes from the Cashiers (NC) Farmers Market (visit their website).  While I’ve tried to replicate her recipe at least a dozen times, I can never quite perfect it.  Usually, my icing is too thin (and seeps into the cake) or too hard (and nearly impossible to spread onto the cake).  While the icing in today’s attempt is darker than Cindy Lou’s version, I think I finally figured this cake out!  At the least this recipe will tide me over until I am back in North Carolina and can get a slice of the real thing!  A few important lessons I have learned during my caramel cake attempts:

1. Buy a candy thermometer.  It’s the best $5 I spent and really helps to know when the icing is done.
2. When making the caramel icing, use LOW heat.  It takes forever (or nearly an hour in my case), but you won’t burn the caramel and make a huge mess of your kitchen.
3. Wait for the cake and the icing to be fully cooled before you try and ice the cake.  If either is still warm, the icing won’t stay on the cake.
4. Sometimes, you can’t recreate a recipe to a tee and that’s OK.  However, Cindy Lou – if you’re reading this and want to give me your recipe, I would be forever grateful!!!

Cindy Lou's Old Fashioned Cakes - Caramel Cake

The Original - Cindy Lou's Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake
(Inspired by Cindy Lou’s Old Fashioned Cakes 828-526-9310)
Cake adapted from Gourmet, January 2008; icing adapted from here, source unknown  

Ingredients
For the Cake:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the Icing:
3 cups (light) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
For the Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled – see photo below). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Caramel Cake Batter
4. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
5. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the Icing:
1. Mix sugar and half and half in a heavy saucepan and cook, stirring over low heat until syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. If lacking a thermometer, check doneness by dropping a tiny bit of syrup into a cup of cold water. When the syrup can be gathered up in fingers and will almost hold its shape, it has reached the soft-ball stage.
2. Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter, then let syrup cool. Add vanilla and beat until frosting reaches spreading consistency (note: the icing will thicken as it cools). A little cream (or half-and-half) may be added is mixture is too thick.

Caramel Cake Icing

Good icing consistency

3. Spread icing on cooled cake.  Don’t skimp on the icing!  The photo below contains only the first 1/3 of the icing that I ultimately used to frost the cake.  (Note: This is a really messy, sticky cake.  In order to make cleanup easier, I put the cake inside a disposable roasting pan to frost it and transport it to my friend’s apartment.  Not the prettiest way to serve it, but caramel would have been everywhere otherwise!)

Caramel Cake

Icing the cake

Christmas Dinner

26 Dec

Christmas Hearth

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope you had a happy holiday and Santa was good to you and your families!  My family decided to do something different from turkey this Christmas and make a standing rib roast instead.  Serving red meat versus poultry required a total overhaul of our menu from Thanksgiving.  Listed below are the dishes that we made today for Christmas dinner.  Over the course of the next two weeks, I will post each of these recipes.

Hot Toddies
Christmas Crostini
Dad’s Cream of Chestnut Soup
Mom’s Standing Rib Roast
Asparagus Wrapped in Bacon
Potato & Celery Root Mash
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise

To round out our meal, we served Sister Shubert’s Wheat Dinner Yeast Rolls and a bottle of Illumination Sauvignon Blanc from Quintessa Winery (see Napa Travelogue post for more info on CA wineries!).  Red wine probably would have gone better with this meal, but my mom generally only drinks white and I had just given my parents a case of this wine for Christmas so we had to try it!

Christmas Dinner Plate

Christmas Treat: Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons

24 Dec How to Make French Macarons

How to Make French MacaronsIn 2007, I visited my good friend Kristen who was living in Paris at the time (lucky girl!).  One of my favorite parts of the visit was spending afternoons recharging at La Duree, a tea and pastry shop, after spending the mornings sightseeing, shopping and walking around Paris.  La Duree is most well known for their delectable macarons (not to be confused with coconut macaroons).  “Le macaron” is a French sweet consisting of two cookies that are hard on the outside but soft when you bite into them that are sandwiched between a layer of ganache or fruit preserves.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of “le macaron,” check out this website.  Until a few months ago, La Duree only had stores in Europe (Paris, London, etc.) and the Middle East (Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, etc.), so to get my macaron fix, I had to stock up when I visited Kristen or when I am in London for work.  However, La Duree recently opened up a NYC-branch of their famous Parisian tea shop at 864 Madison Ave. on the Upper East Side so now I can get macarons whenever the craving strikes (which is quite often!).  I always wondered how to make macarons until a few weeks ago I found a recipe for macarons from Allison Eats blog on the Word Press dashboard.  You can find my adaptation of her recipe below.  While I won’t be giving up La Duree macarons anytime soon, I can’t wait to serve these at Christmas dinner tomorrow with coffee or hot chocolate after dessert!  If you are new to making macarons like I was, the following sites provide a useful primer on preparing macarons and how to beat egg whites.  It took me two tries to get the egg  white perfect.  I would not recommend using an electric mixer; a copper bowl and whisk worked MUCH better.  Also, as a warning, this took me the better part of a day to create these treats.  Be sure you have set aside at least 3-4 hours when you tackle this recipe.  For more information on French Cooking and Culture, check out this great blog – A Woman’s Paris.  The watercolor iPhone cases are to die for!

Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons
(Makes 30-40)

Ingredients (for the macarons)
1 1/3 cup almond flour (fine meal)
3 cups powdered sugar
6 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Red food coloring (optional)

Directions (for the macarons)
1. Get out 5 baking sheets and line each with parchment paper.  Using a pencil, draw 1.5″ circles approximately 1″ apart on the papers.  I felt silly doing this, but it really helped me get the hang of things for my first tray, so maybe only do this for a couple of trays if you are short on time.  In the picture below, the right tray has 1″ circles and the left tray has 1.5″ circles.  I found that the larger 1.5″ macarons cooked better and were simliar to La Duree’s mini macarons in size.
How to Make French Macarons

2.  In a food processor, blend the almond flour and powdered sugar until well incorporated and no lumps remain.
3. In a copper bowl, beat egg whites using a whisk until they are foamy.  When they are foamy, add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue beating.  Gradually add in the granulated sugar about a tablespoon at a time.  Once the egg whites have formed “soft peaks,” add the peppermint extract and 30 drops of red food coloring.  (I added 20 drops of food coloring to my mix and I think it could have used a little more.)  Note: It is important that the egg whites are room temperature as this helps the “peaks” form in the egg whites.  The cream of tartar also helps this so don’t forget this step!

Egg White Foam

Egg Whites @ "Foamy" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

Egg White Peaks

Egg Whites @ "Peak" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture in a few additions.  Blend each time until well incorporated.
5. Fill pastry bag (or big ziploc bag with approximately 1/2″ cut off on a diagonal) with the batter and carefully dispense into your drawn circles.  Once the tray is filled, rap the baking sheet on the counter to help settle the batter.  Let trays sit out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that a slight crust forms on each shell.  Note: Letting the shells sit at room temperature before baking is a crucial step.  This is how you obtain the crunchy on the outside/chewy on the inside French macaron texture.
How to Make French Macarons
6. While the shells are sitting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake ONE tray at a time for 9-12 minutes, until the shells are slightly crisp on top.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from trays.  (To me, they look the the image from the Scrubbing Bubbles ads when they are finished.)  Repeat process one tray at a time until all trays are cooked.
How to Make French Macarons
7.  Once the macarons have cooled, pair each shell with one of similar size and shape.  For each pair, flip one over so they are ready to be filled with the ganache.
How to Make French Macarons
Ingredients (for the ganache)
2/3 cup heavy cream
10 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped (I used two 4-oz. Ghiradelli white chocolate bars and 2 oz. Tollhouse white chocolate chips)
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3 pieces

Directions (for the ganache)
1. Put the white chocolate in a heat proof mixing bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.
3. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, stir ingredients together until smooth.  Then stir in the butter.
4. Place the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice water, stirring constantly until ganache is thick and won’t run.
5. Place ganache into pastry bag (or Ziploc bag with 1/2″ opening cut on diagonal at one end).  Work quickly so the ganache doesn’t harden.  Carefully pipe filling onto flat side of one shell, leaving space around the edges.  Pick up the filled shell’s empty pair and place it on top of the filled shell, gently twisting as you press them together.  Once all macarons have been filled, store in the refrigerator.  They are best enjoyed the following day when brought to room temperature.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Best wishes for a happy holiday and a blessed new year!